National Hospice Month

The goal of hospice is to create more memories and moments, even when life is drawing short. It’s the time to be enjoying the presence of loved ones and the joys of favorite activities—not haggling over directives, and worrying about decisions that have been left unmade.

And yet, those are exactly the stresses confronting family members or friends of many people dealing with life-limiting conditions. End of life planning can be difficult to face, and in some cases, the instinct is to ignore it or figure someone else will make all the decisions for you. But in order for someone’s wishes to be carried out, those end-of-life decisions are crucial—and need to be made in advance by the person who will be directly affected by them.

“A lot of people really haven't thought about that. They've thought about the next treatment, the next medication, the next regimen. And yet we still need to engage in those conversations about end of life care, which is essential for any of us,” says Christa Sprouse, social work program manager at Hosparus Heath.

Such conversations are always a priority at Hosparus Health, which has been providing advanced illness care in Kentucky and Southern Indiana since 1978. They’re particularly top of mind in November, National Hospice Month, which brings attention to the growing demand for care management.

“Often when I'm speaking with families or patients about making these healthcare decisions, they’ll say ‘I don't want to talk about it,’ or, ‘I'll just let somebody else decide.’ And I always say, when we walk away from here, you not deciding is a decision,” Sprouse adds. “I want you to be informed about those decisions, and what could possibly be the outcome or the results of those decisions.”

Power of the living will

These are not decisions to be left to chance or to be made in a rush. Do you want prolonged treatment that could include being placed on a ventilator or having a feeding tube implanted? Do you want your organs donated? Would someone else, forced to make those decisions on the spot, understand your true wishes and how your values or beliefs might impact them?

Sprouse knows that quandary firsthand: her mother suffered a heart attack at home, and with no directives spelled out, it was up to her and her father to make difficult decisions about life support. “I don’t want anybody to have to experience that if it can be avoided,” she says.

Fortunately, there’s a way to ensure all those decisions will be made and carried out exactly like the person making them intended: a living will, a legal document that covers not property or possessions but lays out specific healthcare decisions or appoints someone to make them if you’re unable to do so yourself. Living will packets are free and easily available from state government websites in both Kentucky and Indiana.

 “Typically, the first person to engage in those conversations is the social worker. We learn the patient’s story and help guide them. And the social workers and chaplains of Hosparus Health, we're all notaries. So while we're educating them about those decisions, we're also able to provide that legal document and to notarize it.”

National Hospice Month shines a spotlight on the need to plan ahead—reflected at Hosparus Health, in which each patient receives an admission packet that includes a living will form. Filling it out and having it notarized removes a sizeable burden from loved ones who might otherwise have to make those decisions for you. “What a gift it is to express your healthcare wishes to your family to your friends,” Sprouse says. “Especially those of us who have kids—I’ve expressed these things. I have them in legal order for my family.”

Make decisions now, not later

But you don’t have to suffer from a life-limiting illness to think about end of life situations; there’s also advanced care planning, which can be done by anyone over 18, and may be especially top of mind during a coronavirus pandemic that’s hospitalizing thousands of Americans each day.

“We look at the pandemic every day on the news. What do we see? We see the numbers. We're seeing the images of people being placed on life support. Advanced care planning is a discussion for all of us. All of us, once you turn 18. It doesn't matter if you have a life-limiting illness or not,” Sprouse says. Once again, the key is the living will.

“I’m relatively healthy right now. But if I have a cancer diagnosis and they've told me I have two months left to live, well, then that's going to be a different conversation,” she adds. “A living will is a living document. You don't do it one time, put it in the safety deposit box and lock it away. It needs to be updated as your healthcare changes. It's making sure that it's reflecting your values and what you want.”

There’s no better time to take that step than National Hospice Month when staff members at Hosparus Health engage with physicians to receive the industry’s most up-to-date training. And Sprouse is always open to answering questions. “I would never turn down someone who wanted to have a conversation about advanced care planning—to take what they value, and get it on paper,” she says.

Interested in learning more about end of life planning, advanced care planning, or living wills? Contact Hosparus Health via their online form, or visit their website at HosparusHealth.org for further information.